The practice of meditation is simple.
- Find your seat;
- Place your mind on your object of focus; and
- When your mind strays, gently re-place it back on that object of focus.
Our minds are constantly active. They’re even working in our sleep! Most of our thoughts are repetitive and unproductive. Our brains are busy ruminating, planning, wasting the day fretting about the awkward conversation we had yesterday or the big meeting we have to present at tomorrow, fantasizing about the best case scenario or getting anxious about the worst. Sometimes our busy-brains are even undermining our confidence with negative self-talk.
When we place our mind on our breath in meditation, we begin to more consciously notice these thought patterns as they repeatedly challenge the breath for our attention. When we become aware of thoughts, we experience a “pause,” or “gap,” that allows us to gently re-place our mind back on the breath. Easier said than done, I know! Sometimes in practice you’ll notice a thought, and almost simultaneously notice that it’s actually had you off track for a while. It’s okay. It’s part of the practice.
Think of your thoughts like a litter of puppies that you’re trying to corral on a blanket in the middle of a room. They’re just doing what puppies do, wandering off, exploring, and your mind is just doing what minds do. It’s thinking. Sometimes you can redirect a puppy before it gets too far away from the blanket, and other times you realize a puppy snuck off a while ago and you missed it. It’s okay. Just gently re-place the puppy back where it belongs, and be equally kind to your mind and yourself.
Over time, and with consistent practice, you’ll start to have greater awareness of your thoughts, both in your practice, and in the rest of your life. You’ll have increased capacity to notice when your thoughts are not serving your best interests, and to re-place your mind on more productive thinking.
Last week I had to facilitate a workshop, and the facilitator of the session on the day before my mine was great. I started to question myself, and felt the panic rising, but there were a couple of things that happened differently than they would have just a few years ago. For one, I was very aware in the moment of my physiological response, and was able to mitigate it through conscious breathing. I was also able to catch my fear thinking – “What if my session gets a horrible evaluation?!” “What if I forget my own name?!” – and recognize my thoughts as just thoughts. What if I did get a horrible evaluation? What would actually happen? I’d feel bad for a little while, sure, because I care about my work, but I’d get over it. That’s what would happen. It wouldn’t be the earth-shattering event my panic would like me to have believed. In the end, everything was fine, of course. My evaluation wasn’t as amazing as the person before me, but it was still pretty great.
Benefits of a consistent mindfulness meditation practice include stability, clarity, and strength. Stability helps you to maintain your seat when when something threatens to unbalance you. Clarity helps you to see things as they are – to not be led down the paths of minimizing or catastrophizing. Strength helps you to maintain your seat, even amidst challenges, and to attend to your own self-care first so that you can be fully present for yourself and others. Seems like a pretty great return on investment to me!